WEST, Texas -- Hundreds in the town of West will gather Thursday night to mark the one year anniversary of the devastating fertilizer plant explosion that claimed 15 lives and left the community with scars that may take several more years to heal.
The Thursday night event called “West 4-17 Forever Forward” will take place at the West Fair and Rodeo Grounds. The anniversary observance will include a moment of silence at 7:51 p.m. – the exact time of the blast one year ago.
But West business owner Bryan Anderson and his son Kaden will not be there. The explosion survivors say it will be too difficult an experience to relive. They were in Anderson’s pickup truck the night of the fire at the fertilizer plant, watching it from N. Reagan Street near West Intermediate School. But then – the explosion.
“It blew us across the road. The glass and debris and airbags,” he said.
The blast shattered every window and showered them with glass shards and other debris coming from the plant and from nearby homes and apartments also ravaged by the massive explosion.
“He (Kaden) can’t see and he’s screaming, ‘Are we dead, are we dead?’ And I reach and grab him and say if we are we’re both dead because I don’t know.”
They both survived. But like the devastated town they still live in they are both still scarred. Anderson says his son is still frightened by any loud noise and attends therapy sessions at least once a week.
A year later dozens of homes have been rebuilt, more are under construction, the demolished West Rest Haven nursing home is now being rebuilt and money has been secured to help rebuild West High and Middle Schools. But dozens of lots are still vacant, their owners waiting for enough assistance to start over.
Bryan Anderson is one of those homeowners. The owner of West Pizza House is still renting a home. His house was declared a total loss and still sits as a pile of rubble on his lot next to I-35.
“Making progress but we’re not where we need to be,” said Anderson.
But in a town where flags still fly at half staff and where a tribute to the fallen firefighters is now a permanent part of the downtown fire station, West residents, with their physical and emotional scars, talk about moving forward.
“It’ll never be the same,” said Anderson. “But every time I really do get down I think of all the people that have it way worse than me. I’ve got a bunch of phone numbers in my phone that I can’t call anymore, and I could be one of those. Kaden could be one of those.”
KHOU will have extensive coverage throughout all newscasts Thursday as West looks back on the tragedy and pledges to move “forever forward.”